Contra Costa Does Realignment Right….Supes Take Small Step Toward Civilian Oversight for the LASD….LA County’s Problematic GPS Monitoring….Justice Reform: the Good & the Bad News….February 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon
CAN CONTRA COSTA COUNTY TEACH THE REST OF CALIFORNIA HOW REALIGNMENT SHOULD BE DONE?
Yes, Contra Costa is smaller than counties like LA, Orange and Riverside. But it has a crime rate roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the state, and its success with the ins and outs of realignment since the effects of AB109 kicked in, has been dramatic.
A new report looks at what exactly Contra Costa is doing right and how it might be replicated. Christopher Nelson at Cal Forward has the story.
Here’s a clip:
The time between when the three judge panel ordered California to dramatically reduce its state prison population to when AB 109 went into effect was quick by any measure, especially for something of this magnitude.
Naturally, some counties have fared better than others under realignment, including new responsibilities for non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious criminal offenders who in the past would have been sent to prison. But according to a study commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice and released last month by the JFA Institute, there is one county that already had so many cultural and institutional elements in line that is has risen above the rest and serves as a model for how realignment should be implemented. That county is Contra Costa.
“I think it would be fair to say we came from a unique position from the very beginning,” said Philip Kader, Chief of Contra Costa County Probation and by virtue of that title, chair of the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) that allocates AB 109 funding throughout the county.
In many ways, Contra Costa doesn’t differ too much from other California counties. It has a population of about 1 million, making it the 9th largest county in the state. Its crime rate is about on par with the rest of the state, lest anyone think that a smaller Northern California county might be exempt from some of the troubles that plague its larger brethren down south.
But it differs in one major way: a culture of mutual respect exists between probation, sheriff, the district attorney and public defender without which Contra Costa would not be able to achieve the astounding statistical success it has seen since 2010.
According to the report, which was prepared by the JFA Institute, which is headed by James Austin, PhD (the same guy who did the report on how the LA County Jail system cold best handle its overcrowding problems), Contra Costa allocated about 60% of its AB109 funds to programs and services (probation, public defender, health services and contracted programs) designed to assist people convicted of crimes.
THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES TAKE FIRST SMALL STEP TO (POSSIBLY) CREATE CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT BOARD FOR LASD—BUT WOULD IT HAVE ANY POWER?
On Tuesday morning the Supervisors voted to ask new LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman and new interim LASD Sheriff John Scott (along with the county counsel) to look into what kind of civilian oversight body they believe would work when it comes to the sheriff’s department.
Rina Palta at KPCC has the story. Here’s a clip:
The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to study creating a civilian body to monitor the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
The Board has debated for months a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create a civilian oversight commission, but Ridley-Thomas could not muster the three votes needed for passage.
On Tuesday, the Board agreed instead to ask Interim Sheriff John Scott, Inspector General Max Huntsman and the county counsel to study what sorts of oversight might be appropriate for the department.
In December, the Board hired Huntsman away from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office to start an Office of the Inspector General to monitor the Sheriff’s Department.
But Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that move was not enough – that the Sheriff’s Department needs a civilian oversight body, akin to the LAPD’s Police Commission, to serve as a transparent, public watchdog. Supervisor Gloria Molina cosponsored the proposal.
Critics, however, wondered how much “oversight” a commission would actually have. Voters elect county sheriffs in California, meaning that by law they are independent from other county leaders. The Board of Supervisors oversees the sheriff’s budget, but, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told KPCC in December the Board can hardly threaten the sheriff by withholding funding.
The report is due this June—right about the time LA County residents will be voting for a new sheriff in the election primary.
PROBATION CHIEF POWERS REPORTS TO SUPES ON DRAMATIC PROBLEMS WITH GPS MONITORING SYSTEMS
Also in Tuesday’s meeting of the Supervisors, Probation Chief Jerry Powers gave a lengthy report on his agency’s use of an electronic monitoring system to track criminal offenders who, for one reason or another, qualify for GPS monitoring.
Powers was refreshingly candid in his assessment that the system was something of a mess.
“I think we have to spend some time taking our lumps, frankly, in reviewing how probation implemented the program,” Powers said. “It was very clear to me that it was not close to a best practice.”
Then he added that probation didn’t really have good policies in place to sort out which people were put on GPS and why. Plus there was the matter of losing track of around 80 offenders altogether.
He also outlined the agency’s failure to give probation officers adequate training to oversee the monitoring system.
Yet, although Powers did not present an encouraging picture, his transparency, forthrightness and thoroughness in facing up to the unwanted reality went a long way in giving the county a clear path to follow in order to greatly improve matters.
The LA Times’ Paige St. John takes a detailed look at the problems Powers presented and their implications. Here’s a clip:
By the end of this week, the probation department intends to reduce thousands of alerts created when offenders drive or ride through about 4,800 violation zones that blanket Los Angeles County, including every school and park. It will use software to calculate the speed of monitored offenders and ignore alerts created by those moving quickly.
The department ultimately intends to remove those default zones and establish prohibited areas unique to each offender, a goal set for this spring. Officials are also in the midst of creating a 12-person unit of deputies trained to use electronic monitoring. Some officers told The Times that they never were instructed how to use the system and were unaware that they could determine a felon’s past or current location.
Los Angeles County officials said they were also tackling equipment problems they have had with the GPS ankle monitors provided by vendor Sentinel Offender Services of Irvine. An internal audit in September found that one in four GPS devices used to track serious criminals was faulty. The vendor attributed many of those problems to poorly trained county deputies.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is not a fan of GPS monitoring, noted during the meeting that Sentinel, the vender that provides LA County with its GPS devices, had failed to meet its contractual obligations, and that probation should seek a new vender.
“We shouldn’t be a partner in allowing this vender to continue to operated after their past record of failing to abide by the contract,” he said.
Last November, if you’ll remember, WitnessLA reported that the board was poised to approve a new contract with Irvine, California based Sentinel Offender Services. Nevermind that last summer, Orange County Probation had broken its contract with Sentinel after finding that the company had repeatedly been guilty of what amounted to gross incompetence.
And there were other red flags… (You can find the backstory here.)
YES, WE ARE SEEING SOME REAL JUSTICE REFORM, BUT THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO
The so-called “tough on crime” era that came to full flower in the early to mid 1980s, resulted in the US having 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and only 5 percent of its population (to use the much quoted statistic).
In the last few years, as we have often mentioned here at WLA, the tide has slowly begun to turn.
Timothy P. Silard, a former prosecutor and the president of the Rosenberg Foundation, lays it out well in an essay for the Huffington Post. Here’s a clip.
For those of us who consider criminal justice reform to be one of the leading civil rights issues of our time, these are hopeful signs that we might be entering a new era. We are no longer turning a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, or ignoring the pervasive racial bias that undermines the very legitimacy of the system itself.
Racial disparities deeply persist in our justice system at all levels, from how we treat victims to whom we arrest and send to jails and prisons. Victims of violent crime are more likely to be Latino or African American, and nearly half of all homicide victims are Black men and boys. But the perception that our young men are dangerous, rather than vulnerable, is one that is reinforced daily by our justice system.
Nationally, 25 percent of those behind bars are there for drug offenses, and the racial disparities in drug enforcement are staggering. While African Americans use and sell drugs at lower rates than whites, they are are incarcerated for drug charges at 10 times the rate of whites.
More states, including California, must continue to shift from an “incarceration only” approach and toward the evidence-based programs and services that have been proven to actually reduce crime and racial injustice in the system, while also saving precious taxpayer dollars. For example, education and job-focused programs like San Francisco’s Back on Track program and New York’s Bard Prison Initiative have dramatically reduced re-offense rates to less than 10 percent, creating pathways to productive lives for the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers caught up in the criminal justice system, at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.